This article by Colin Firth in The Guardian today eloquently explores the pitfalls and advantages of actors getting involved in charitable and/or political causes.
Essentially, the problem is that the public and the media can become frustrated and cynical about actors, or other celebrities, speaking out about issues. There is a view that they are only doing it for their own PR spin, to make themselves look good, and that they don’t actually know anything about the issue concerned, whatever it may be. Some people also express the opinion that celebrities shouldn’t have their voices heard over and above anyone else’s.
However, Colin Firth, whilst in many ways agreeing with all the above criticism, explains it from the other side:
“If your profession gives you a public voice, you have a new relationship with those who don’t. Your voice becomes a cherished commodity. Not for its merits but for its sheer volume. You may have nothing to say, but those who do – the wise, the desperate and the better informed – all clamour to make use of your media connection.”
People who complain that celebrities shouldn’t necessarily get involved in causes or have their voices heard over others are ignoring WHY the organisations who work on such causes want them to get involved. Because they can be heard louder than others, because in our celebrity-obsessed media culture what Angelina Jolie or Bob Geldof or Colin Firth have to say is considered important.
As to whether they have any RIGHT to speak out about issues, the fact is they have every right as human beings and citizens of the world. They have as much right to speak their mind as you or me. The fact is, as Colin Firth says, they will be heard louder.
So the criticism shouldn’t be so much directed at the actors themselves, or the organisations who work with them, but at a media culture that gives more weight to Colin Firth’s opinions than it does to someone working on-the-ground for Oxfam. And considering the other options we are presented with when it comes to celebrity “news” (break ups, marriages, babies, drunken nights out, rehab…) is it really that bad to hear about a celebrity doing something good for the world? Perhaps they could even inspire someone else to do the same?
Colin Firth suggests that there is a certain level of responsibility that comes with celebrity in terms of using your voice for good. Although I wouldn’t say that being an actor means you should also be an activist, I do agree insofar as if someone blessed (or not!) with fame has strong beliefs about the world then they have an excellent outlet in which to use their fame for good. So it would seem foolhardy to give that up.
iceandfire’s Outreach Project, Actors for Human Rights, however, offers actors another way in which to get involved in human rights issues. Although using their profile to bring attention to causes is valuable, AFHR asks actors to use their skills (with or without fame) to tell the stories of people who have been displaced or are somehow the victims of human rights abuses. People who are often unable to speak for themselves. It’s another way in which actors can be heard, where some mere mortals cannot.
The next major Outreach performance will be Rendition Monologues at the Edinburgh Festival. Be sure to come along and see what actors can do!